Ian Millhiser has an interesting article over at ThinkProgress titled How The Supreme Court Helped Make It Possible For Police To Kill By Chokehold. His article tells the story of an African-American man named Adolph Lyons who “was choked out by police in 1976 shortly after he was pulled over for driving with a broken taillight.” Millhiser provides information about the 1983 Supreme Court case named City of Los Angeles v. Lyons. The court ruling in that case stated that Lyons did not have the right to seek an injunction against the LAPD from using such maneuvers as the chokehold “because it was unlikely the chokehold would ever be used on him again.”
An African-American man was stopped by police because he committed a minor offense. Soon, four officers confronted him with their guns drawn. The cops ordered him to stand facing his car, to spread his legs, and to put his hands on top of his head. Shortly after the man briefly lowered his hands and complained that a key ring he had in his hands was causing him pain, an officer placed him in a chokehold. The man eventually passed out. When he awoke, he was facedown on the ground. His pants were soiled with his own urine and feces. And he was spitting up blood and dirt.
These are not the facts of the Eric Garner case, a man who recently died after a New York police officer placed him in a chokehold. These are the facts of a 1983 Supreme Court case named City of Los Angeles v. Lyons. The victim in that case, a black man named Adolph Lyons, was choked out by police in 1976 shortly after he was pulled over for driving with a broken taillight. Yet the justices’ decision in Lyons likely played a role in allowing police chokeholds to continue to this day. At the very least, Lyons made it much, much harder for victims of these chokeholds to ensure that other people were not victimized in the future.
Millhiser said that Lyons was just one of a number of individuals who “the Los Angeles police targeted with a chokehold, often with fatal results.” Millhiser said that according to Erwin Chemerinsky’s book The Case Against the Supreme Court, Lyons discovered that “sixteen people died after being choked by an LAPD officer, almost all of whom were black men.”
When police Chief Daryl Gates was asked why almost all of these fatal chokeholds involved African Americans, Gates replied that the “veins or arteries of blacks do not open up as fast as they do in normal people.”
Millhiser continued by saying that Adolph Lyons’s story “and the case that bears his name is also the story of how arcane legal doctrines can reshape decades of police practices.” He noted that Lyons was a 5-4 decision. Millhiser wrote, “If just one more justice had sided with Mr. Lyons, it may have enabled the courts to prevent cases like Garner’s from ever happening.”
Click here to read Ian Millhiser’s article How The Supreme Court Helped Make It Possible For Police To Kill By Chokehold.
1983 City of Los Angeles v Lyons (Grinnel)